As we celebrate yet another Independence day, we must reflect on the state of our nation over the past 53 years, and hence the theme of my address focuses on THE ‘NEW GAMBIA’ FOR REFLECTION AND SOUL-SEARCHING FOR INCLUSIVE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT.
My fellow Gambians,
Together, we have ushered the New Gambia into a world of hope - while we shall jealously guard to preserve the freedom and dignity of our people. We should continue to nurture the spirit of unity to build the New Gambia that we want and deserve. Peace is priceless, that is why my government will tirelessly work towards safeguarding this peace to be able to set our development agenda on the right path.
We can only continue to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere if we embrace our diversity, and as citizens selflessly contribute to making The Gambia the best it can be. We will always have our differences but we must learn to respect those differences. There is no one correct perspective but let us remember that despite our political, ethnic, economic, gender difference, we have one thing in common –we have one Gambia and we are all Gambians.
We can only impact positive change in our institutions and society if we realise that the ultimate responsibility to bring effective systems in place lies with all of us, state and non-state actors. We all have specific responsibilities that we cannot neglect.
In this regard we must take responsibilities bestowed on us and be accountable to the citizens. No matter what position you hold in my government, or profession you practice, or be you an opinion shaper, or a politician, we are in it together for the success of this country.
We have won the war against dictatorship, which is the easy part, maintaining the peace for our democracy to thrive will be our utmost challenge. This will require patience, tolerance, and even mistakes will be made but we will correct them as we work towards perfecting the New Gambia. In this journey we are not alone, the world has opened its arms and shows us a lot of goodwill in this experiment of democracy, and we must make good use of this opportunity. The Gambia has been re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations because of our strife to promote democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
My fellow Gambians,
In shaping the New Gambia, my government has begun the task of steadily reforming the government machinery. The reforms will put in place the instruments for best practices we formulate in governance through the policies and practices in the execution of our duties. This will also include cultural and attitudinal change in the timely execution and delivery of our work. In this regard my administration will focus not only on service delivery but also on the quality of work expected of public servants.
Under my administration, every artificial barrier that will prevent the application of creativity, innovation and service delivery system will be completely removed.
It is one year into my administration, and yet we have remove one of the major huddles – Management by Fear – by creating an enabling environment that encourages critical thinking, collaboration, positive engagement, guided by a clear vision in our quest to build the New Gambia. This vision is captured in our National Development Plan 2018-2021.
This plan is our National blueprint that would ensure the New Gambia is put on a firm footing to deliver good governance and accountability, social cohesion and national reconciliation and above all to revitalise and transform the economy for the wellbeing of all Gambians.
My priorities which are in line with the NDP is to fix the energy problem, improve health and agricultural sub-sectors, youth empowerment, and education and tourism.
To this end, the office of the President and Ministry of finance will work in tandem to ensure that a robust monitoring and delivery system is put in place so that I will be personally briefed on a quarterly basis on the status of implementation of the NDP.
Fellow Gambians, 2017 was a challenging period in starting the transformation process because we inherited a structure and a system that was dysfunctional, with coordinated policies, and in some instances no records for my government to immediately continue governance. We have also recognized the impatience from fellow Gambians and in some cases frustrations in the speed with which they want to see things happen.
In spite of all these challenges, my government has registered modest but profound improvements in tax reforms which has significantly benefited companies and individuals, improved macroeconomic performance by improving our import cover from one month to four months, improved fiscal discipline by cutting on our expenses and reduced borrowing. We will also implement the vehicle policy that will reduce the overall government spending in maintenance and fuel cost.
Similarly we have improved the power supply across the nation, where in some places fellow citizens are enjoying 20-24 hours of steady supply.
On Justice and Judicial reforms, a Constitutional Review Commission, Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission and the Human Rights Commission have been enacted. The Executive Secretary of the TRRC has also been appointment. At this junction, I will use this opportunity to declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in The Gambia, as a first step towards abolition.
Similarly the Security Sector Reform assessment has been completed and it will guide the programme design and implementation.
On Works and Infrastructure, we have secured $75Million grant from the Chinese to construct roads and bridges in the Upper River Region.
The Gambia is open for business and we have taken steps to facilitate trade and provide incentives for investment in the country. We now have a country that will benefit from greater openness through international trade. Many investors are exploring the Gambian market and opportunities.
We have formulated several policies to enhance our trade relations and to better integrate The Gambia in to the multilateral trading system. The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has been ratified. The Gambia was successfully reinstated into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which provides duty free market access to the United States.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports is partnering with Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment on the EU funded Youth Empowerment Project working closely with the International Organisation for Migration.
The price of groundnut at the seccos has increased from D16,850 last year to D18,800 per ton this year. Also, the Islamic Development Bank provided my government with $25million to support farmers with groundnut seeds and fertilizers. The Agriculture and Natural Resources policy 2017-2026 has been reviewed to boost and add value to agriculture.
The Ministry of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters and the Ministry of Justice reviewed the fisheries regulations 2008 to make it more relevant to our current realities.
My government has signed an agreement with the FTI tour operators to boost the tourism industry and build the capacity of young people in the sector, all aimed at making tourism an all year round activity.
My government has put in place the right policies and programmes to protect our environment and combat the effects of climate change and has benefitted from $20.5million from the ECO system based adaptation climate change project to restore and build The Gambia natural resource base.
To improve health delivery, we have obtained mobility for Village Health Workers and Community Health Nurses across the country.
In one year, MRC Holland Foundation has supported the construction of 477 new classrooms in 50 schools, renovation of 318 classrooms, 520 toilets and 28 staff quarters built, 28 schools and staff quarters solarised and 29 boreholes dug in 29 schools.
The curriculum review process is ongoing and with support from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, we are building on existing programmes to enhance access to quality basic education, including early childhood education.
To enhance capacity in the education sector, 75 Teachers in various disciplines are undergoing their graduate studies at the University of The Gambia.
To further strengthen the freedom of the media, my government is preparing an Information Bill and a committee on Media Law Reform has been set up to review the existing media laws to support the drafting of a Media Law that is in line with the developments in media and communication technologies.
The first Private television station has been licensed and all the radio stations that have been illegally shut down have been re-opened.
In one year, I held three bi-annual press conferences with both local and international press all aimed at informing the Gambian and development partners on the state of affairs of the nation. We will continue to pursue our communication strategies.
May I now turn my attention to the students. We have begun a journey that will usher in democratic change and this comes with respect for human rights and the rule of law. However, it equally calls for responsible citizenship, and to this end, I want to encourage you to be steadfast in your education and learning to become future teachers, nurses, engineers, technicians, doctors, journalists, politicians and business people to name a few on whose shoulders the New Gambia will be carried into the future. We need these professions to thrive as a modern nation that is successful. Success can only be built through hardwork; there is no short cut to success. Those countries that have advanced placed country before self, show respect for rule of law and have positive attitude towards nation building.
Therefore, I am calling on both parents and teachers to redouble their efforts to instill discipline, hardwork, truthfulness, self-reliance and love for nation before self. It is such values that can make The Gambia great again.
I cannot conclude my statement without thanking our partners who stood by us when it was difficult and continue to stand by us as we strive to realise our national development plan. Each one of them took strategic decision to support us because of our common belief in nurturing democracy, rule of law, freedom and equality of all citizens.
On that note I thank you for your kind attention and wish you a happy celebration.